- Paul Sherman/Daily
By Katie Szymanski, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 20, 2012
Not even chilly, rainy weather could put a damper on EarthFest 2012: Party for the Planet, one of the University’s largest events promoting sustainability.
The rain cleared just in time for students and organizations to gather on the Diag to celebrate Mother Earth at the University’s annual sustainability festival on Thursday afternoon, which is organized by students and the Office of Campus Sustainability. Each of the 50 booths addressed one of four main categories related to the goals set by University President Mary Sue Coleman for the University to achieve by 2025 — community awareness, climate action, waste prevention and healthy environments.
This year’s celebration featured booths from student organizations — including LSA Student Government, Central Student Government and Students for Clean Energy — as well as groups from the greater Ann Arbor area. Appearances were also made by representatives from the Leslie Science Center, Recycle Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority Bus Services and Natural Area Preservation.
During the event, student could learn about sustainability groups and their projects through interactive games, raffles, Q&A sessions and giveaways of recycled pencils, pins, reusable tote bags and food.
Along with the interactive presentations, cooking demonstrations were made every half hour to show students how sustainability can be enjoyable and even delectable. Rufus — a life-size walking recycling bin — joined the fun by mingling with students and posing for an occasional photo opportunity.
Barbara Hagan, the director of Earthfest and sustainability administrator in the Office for Campus Sustainability, said participation has increased compared to years past due to its outreach to Ann Arbor organizations.
“We have more booths this year because we expanded it to include some external (Ann Arbor) groups,” she said. “I think they bring a lot to the table … we’ve got some great groups here.”
Linda Polo, the event coordinator of EarthFest said students seemed enthusiastic, adding that this year’s event drew a large crowd because it appealed to a majority of students.
“We are really focusing on the things students love, like food,” she said. “That’s why we have apples and donuts and chef demos. Everything here is centered on being local and making sure that what we buy isn’t going to waste.”
Nicole Berger, a Planet Blue ambassador coordinator, said there were many changes added to this year’s festival. Among them was a photo-booth pledge system through the Planet Blue Community Awareness station, where students were able to write down their sustainability goals and take a photo alongside their pledge.
Berger said this was the first time the group incorporated photography while pledging, making it more personal for those participating. The pledge photos will be posted on the group’s website in the upcoming weeks.
Kristyn Sonnenberg, a student services assistant in the Physics Department, pledged to become more conscientious about where her garbage is going.
“I made a pledge to start a compost bin, because it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while because I’ve noticed most of my trash (is better off) in a compost bin than a landfill,” she said. “I think it would be a really great thing if the University did start using (more composting). It would probably be a lot to implement, but I think they could start small.”
LSA sophomore Corey Walsh, a member of LSA Student Government, said the group’s subcommittee Taking Responsibility for the Earth and Environment, attended EarthFest to increase student awareness about sustainability and to provide alternative, eco-friendly options for students. The LSA-SG booth gave students the opportunity to make their own homemade cleaning products and self-watering planters.
Walsh said the University’s sustainable efforts demonstrate leadership in the initiative and serve as a role model for other campuses.
“Sustainability is so important, not only to our campus, but to the nation as a whole,” he said. “People look to our institution as an example, and I think that we’re setting a great example.”
LSA sophomore Jay Park, the secretary of Students for Clean Energy, said the event helped spread the word about the newly formed organization.
“It’s a big help right now (because) we’re trying to recruit and get the man power that we need to spread the awareness of the detrimental effects of dirty energy,” Park said.
Rackham student Benjamin Schultz, president of Common Cycle, a community-based organization that promotes bicycle riding and repairs, said Earthfest helped give the organization exposure while teaching students about environmentally friendly modes of transportation.
“The more people that are riding bikes (equals) fewer people that ride cars,” Schultz said. “It’s a great way to maintain fitness and not guzzle gas. Ann Arbor is a great town for biking and as far as we’re concerned, our mission is to get more bikes on the road by making the barrier to repairs as low as we can.”
LSA freshman Adi Radhakrishnan said he was initially drawn to the event for the food and other giveaways, but then became interested in sustainable efforts after perusing the displays.
Radhakrishnan said while the University is becoming increasingly sustainable, there are still changes to be made in order to better ensure the highest level of environmentally-friendly practices.
“It’s definitely getting there … I know one thing they could definitely do is educate students about composting,” Radhakrishnan said. “At South Quad or West Quad (the University could) have compost bins so that you can throw (appropriate) trash in there.”
While EarthFest highlighted the major sustainable efforts at the University, there are other measures being taken to reach Coleman's 2025 goal. Hagan said the University responded to student concern about water bottle usage and took initiative to reduce plastic water bottle waste by providing the incoming class of 2016 with reusable bottles.
“We knew that students wanted to reduce the amount of individual use water bottles because those are not good for the planet,” Hagan said. “We thought it was important for us to support that student voice, so we wanted to put an infrastructure in place.”
To accommodate for the usage of reusable water bottles, Hagan explained that CSG funded 18 water refill stations in campus buildings, including libraries and prominent auditoriums, with each department paying for installation. Now, more than 100 refill locations on campus are available to students.
Every time the water refill station is used, a counter indicates how many plastic bottles were saved from going to a landfill. For a one-year period in Mason Hall, Hagan said more than 200,000 water bottles were spared because of the reusable water bottle system.
LSA freshman Elena Potek, a resident of Alice Lloyd Residence Hall, said she appreciates the refill stations.
“I love the water bottles and I am a big reusable water bottle fan,” Potek said. “In our dorm, we have a filter now specifically made for water bottles, which I love … it is really cool to see how many people have been using it in our dorm. I think (the refill stations) help promote sustainability and good use of water.”